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86 Arraigned for Action to Close SOA

School of the Americas Watch
November 19, 2002

86 Arraigned on Trespass Charges for Peaceful Action to Close School of the Americas

Group Entered Military Base in Act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Despite Likely Prison Time


Columbus, GA ­ Eighty-six people from across the country were arraigned in federal court today and yesterday on trespass charges for crossing onto Ft. Benning military base. The base hosts the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC), a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. The 86 were among 10,000 plus people who converged this past weekend at the gates of Benning to call for the closing of the school and to expose a double standard in the war on terrorism. Graduates of the SOA/WHISC continue to be implicated in egregious acts designed to terrorize and coerce civilian populations throughout Latin America.

Most of the 86 defendants were released today and last evening on $5,000 bail. Two are still being held. On Sunday the group negotiated a barbed-wire fence to enter Ft. Benning in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, despite the likelihood of facing substantial prison time. They face up to six months in jail and $5,000 fines. Twenty-six people are currently serving three-month and six-month prison sentences for peacefully crossing onto the base during last November’s convergence.

“The SOA is out of alignment with both the interests and values of the American people,” said Dan Fortson, a veteran from Redway, CA, one of the 86 who now face six months in prison, “We’re here to say ŒNot in our name!’”

This past weekend’s event was the largest gathering yet to close the SOA/WHISC; attributed to growing criticism of the war on terrorism, coupled with concern over turmoil in Latin America this past year involving SOA grads (e.g. failed coup in Venezuela, deteriorating human rights situation in Colombia).

SOA graduates are continually cited for atrocities against civilians. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. In December 2000 Congress authorized WHISC to replace SOA. The renaming was widely viewed as an attempt to diffuse criticism and disassociate the school from its reputation. SOA Watch maintains that the underlying purpose of the school, to control the economic and political systems of Latin America by training and influencing Latin American militaries, remains the same.

“The SOA is part of a corporate-hijacked foreign policy that’s making us a lot of enemies,” said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. “If we want lasting peace and security we need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice, democracy and dignity.”

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Contact: Matthew Smucker 202.903.7257

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